James Paul Hansen, of Abingdon, VA, died peacefully on Wednesday morning, May 2, 2018, one month short of his 81st birthday. His journey ended as it began, in the loving embrace of God. A native of Menominee, Michigan, and son of Paul Hansen and Mamie Fifarek, Jim now joins his parents and three siblings, Ruth Ann, Peter and Stephen, all of whom predeceased him.
He is survived by his beloved spouse, Melanie Coddington; sisters, Helen Baron and Michaeline Hansen; daughters, Jane Hansen and Sarah Hansen (Erik Spence); stepchildren, Laura Stapleton (Jeff) and Brian Muller (Jessica); grandchildren, Henry and James Spence; step grandchildren, Gwendolyn and Rosalyn Muller; dear cousins, nieces, nephews, and friends.
Jim’s lifelong vocation in church ministry began in childhood, serving at the altar, and in his teens, playing for Mass at his home parish. Early experience and study of traditional (Gregorian) chant and exposure to emergent liturgical forms laid the foundation for his future work. He earned Master’s Degrees in Education and Choral Conducting at Northern Michigan University, and taught the choral arts on the high school level, specializing in early sacred music. Jim fully embraced the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council and pioneered the role of the cantor in Catholic liturgy, becoming the premier Master-Teacher of cantors in North America. He influenced thousands of cantors through his workshops, while also serving in various positions on the parish and diocesan levels. His musical compositions, especially his settings of entire Psalms, broke new ground, challenging cantors and communities to sing lament as well as praise, and challenging liturgical composers to put truth before popular appeal. Jim retired from diocesan work in 2003, returning to the high school classroom as a part time pianist and teacher of composition, and to church ministry as an organist. He came to Abingdon in 2008 and became a valuable member of the ecumenical community, serving as a supply organist/substitute accompanist for various congregations. Jim came full circle, founding and directing the Abingdon Schola (2009-2016), a small ensemble specializing in liturgical chant.
Local celebrations, honoring Jim’s service to the ecumenical community, will be hosted by St. Thomas Episcopal Church, 124 E Main St, Abingdon, this Sunday, May 6, as follows: Visitation at 4pm in the church, “Feasting and Telling” (informal sharing of food and stories) at 5:30pm in the parish hall, and Funeral Liturgy at 7:30pm in the church. A celebration will be held in Portland, Oregon at a later date to honor Jim’s legacy as a Catholic liturgical composer and Master-Teacher of cantors. His remains will be put to rest with his family in Menominee, Michigan.
Memorial contributions may be made to Children International, PO BOX 219055, Kansas City, MO 64121-7269.